Professor Shields always wore black, even on warm days. He would swoop into the classroom, raincoat billowing behind him like a cape. Taking his place at the square of desks, he'd peer at us like a hawk examining its prey. He was a real writer, very Greenwich Village, and I was duly intimidated. I don't recall ever having called him David. We didn't go out for coffee after class. He was there, not to be my pal, but to teach me how to write fiction. I trusted him utterly.
I took beginning short story writing with him in the fall of my sophomore year. His comments on my stories were blunt and specific. He strongly encouraged me to come up with better titles than "My Mountains" and "Chasing the Dream." He urged me to cut my unnecessary verbosity and impossibly long sentences. But he was liberal with praise when he liked something. I knew exactly where I stood with him every week.
I jumped at the chance to take his year-long novel writing class during my senior year. There was space for only 15 students, which Shields selected based on writing samples. In the basement of Padelford, a woman looked up my name on the list of candidates. My whole future as a novelist was riding on that moment.
"He says 'Yes,'" the woman finally said. Elated, I was one of the chosen few.
I haven't become a novelist (at least not yet), but I have made my living as a writer for the past few years at the University of California, Davis. I've also published a few essays as a freelancer. What David Shields taught me about fiction has served me well as a non-fiction writer. I've kept all my manuscripts with his comments on them. I read them every so often and relish his praise--and cringe at his criticism.
Maura Brown Deering, '91
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